How to build unions into a transformative force is the critical question of our times; workers still have the power to shut down production but unions must have a class consciousness, including organizing the unemployed . Sam Gindin and Paul Jay on podcast.

Paul Jay

Hi, I’m Paul Jay.  Welcome to theAnalysis.News podcast.

I think if the current mass movement in the United States is going to have significant transformative power, the union movement must play an important, even leading roll.   Even though they represent less workers than in the past, unions are still the only organizations workers have that are national in key sectors of the economy. They have financial resources and organizational power. Problem is, most unions, although not all, are very tied to the Democratic Party corporate establishment. They’re quite satisfied, more or less with the way things are, but not all the unions. As I said, ports along the West Coast of Canada and the United States were closed down on Friday as workers with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union stopped operations to support racial equality and social justice.

A statement from the unions says, “The eight hour actions honored Juneteenth. The celebrations of the liberation of slaves in the United States in 1865 and is commemorated on June 19th.” Will the pandemic and economic crisis spark a new upsurge in the workers movement in Canada and the United States? What is the state of struggle inside the unions as progressive workers fight against an entrenched leadership that is wedded to the status quo? What role are the more progressive unions playing? 

And look out for Part two, which will discuss a fight taking place in Oshawa, Ontario, where workers are demanding an idle GM plant be nationalized and converted to the production of electric vehicles. 

Paul Jay

Now joining us is Sam Gindin. Sam was the research director of the Canadian Auto Workers, now known as Unifor. He’s the co-author of The Socialist Challenge today with Leo Panitch and Steve Miha. And he’s also the co-author of The Making of Global Capitalism with Leo Panitch, and he’s currently active with Green Jobs Oshawa. Thanks for joining us. 

Sam Gindin

Great to be here.

Paul Jay

 So let’s start with what happened on the West Coast was kind of an example of what I’ve always thought workers and unions could play in the course of a heightening struggle.

I was in Baltimore for eight years and I always imagined a day, someday in the future, where a progressive city council would pass some legislation. I don’t know, using public domain and taking over whole sections of housing and turning it into public housing or something like that. That really pissed off the elites and major struggle would take place and thousands of people would come to the front of city hall and then the port workers, because Port Baltimore is a very important port, would close down the port in solidarity with the struggle taking place. Of course, we never saw it, at least not yet, but one can imagine that could be happening. But as I said in the introduction, many of the unions are led by a stratum of, what they used to call them, labor aristocracy, a trade union leaders that are very well-paid and very enmeshed in the status quo of the Democratic Party. And the political system and so on.

So how do you do you think the current crisis is going to change that dynamic? And are there in most, if not all of these unions, progressive workers sort of in battle to try to transform the unions? Because I think that the fight to transform the unions is critical to the fight to transform the society.

Sam Gindin

Well, I think you’re absolutely right in terms of framing this question. I think this is the critical question of our times. I mean, the history of unions over the past few decades is a history of defeats, of demoralization of fragmentation. For example, the two tier wages. So you’ve got a breakdown in solidarity right within the unions. You’ve got workers themselves not seeing much hope in the struggles of their own union, turning to individual survival or even just their own unions survival rather than thinking in class terms.

But the point is that this is the great potential of workers. The fact that they can they actually have the strength that you outlined and the ability to shut down production. So the question is, even if something starts someplace else in the youth movement or amongst blacks protesting, the question is whether workers will join that and how that will affect them. And I guess my sense of this is there haven’t been that many internal struggles. There are some very impressive examples like with the teachers and in other unions.

But the question is whether workers get changed and can change because most workers that I’ve always worked with were a mixed bag in terms of being conservative on some issues and fairly radical on other issues. You couldn’t just pigeonhole them as radical or conservative, and they were also capable of change. It’s one of the things that impressed me relative, for example, working with the Social Democratic Party, which was full of hacks, often. Workers changed and they change as circumstances change, as they think that their structures are actually worthwhile struggling through.

But frustration isn’t enough to change them. There’s been millions of reasons to be frustrated. And it isn’t just the leadership. It’s the workers themselves that have lowered their expectations over the years. So the question that you posed about this pandemic is absolutely vital. I mean, change usually doesn’t come incrementally. It suddenly bursts out and it emerges most often in times of social turbulence. I wore the 60s, the Great Depression. And so the critical question is, what are the openings this time?

And it seems to me there’s a few of them. You know, one that I wouldn’t have expected before is that the question of racial injustice exploded and was incredibly broad. Most of the protesters were, in fact, white. And the question is how deep it can become. And the example that you gave of the longshoreman’s showed the potential of that of actually workers acting in a class way, showing the class possibilities of unions. And therefore, shifting a lot of the protests from just being about race, but being about class.

The question of organizing, I mean, union density in the US is so low. And yet if you look at attitudes to workers during this pandemic, suddenly there was an enormous amount of empathy for the people on the frontlines who are risking their lives, who generally aren’t very well paid and who contrasted with all these people are so well paid on Wall Street, on Bass Street in Canada, and yet weren’t really contributing much to people during the pandemic because as a people, the health workers and the bicycle couriers delivering food, etc.

 that were so crucial and that creates an opening for organizing. There are all kinds of workers now in Amazon and elsewhere who are looking to be organized. And the critical question is this question of transforming the unions from what they’ve been to their potential.  Even if it’s in their own narrow self-interest in terms of getting more members. So one of the questions here is, are people going to really fight and push for increasing union density? Now, I want to caution here that just saying we’ll have more union density doesn’t transform unions.

Paul Jay

Just to just to be clear, union density just means more members, right? 

Sam Gindin

Yes.  More members as a portion of the population. And we’ve had that before. And the problem is, if unions are just bureaucratic or aren’t class struggle oriented, then it doesn’t seem to make much difference. The question this time is if the unions really challenge the Democratic Party of Biden is elected and insist and insist in the name of equality and in the name of basic democratic rights and in the name of the relationship that unions have had with the Democratic Party that there has to be an easing of the conditions for unionization.

Whether that will lead to workers grasping the fact of how unique these circumstances are.

There’s been an enormous delegitimation of elites and of where capitalism has been going, and it creates an opportunity for unions to really make a breakthrough. And if they see this as a moment for a crusade to really make a breakthrough, and if the law is changed, then we could see the beginning of transformations in unions as well. I want to add another dimension of this, which is that it hasn’t only been unions that have been defeated over the last few decades.

It’s also been the left. And these two things have gone together. And that is really critical, too, because we need a left and we have seen signs of that in the US and in England. That links itself to unions. If that doesn’t happen, frustrations and the degree of militancy in themselves aren’t enough. Getting to a class perspective also requires the kind of involvement of the left and socialists who are making the case for why we’ve lost, because we haven’t fought big enough.

We’ve lost because we haven’t thought in class terms. We’ve just been defensive. And I think those are the kinds of critical questions that, you know, the potentials is. There’s also a potential around the environment which the union movement hasn’t been that active on, but with some exceptions, because the. pandemic showed how unprepared we were for a real crisis in health terms. But the pandemic that remains and is there and it’s just been pushed aside temporarily is the environment.

And there’s this whole question of is the environment something that can attract workers? Maybe we’ll get back into that when we get to the green jobs Oshawa thing. So I think there are between the growth of the vacuum in unions of doing things, the frustrations of the members, the growth of the left, these kinds of protests like the Black protests. There’s all these openings. And it would be a real tragedy if the union movement doesn’t grasp that this is an inflection point, a chance to start turning things around and to really revive the trade union movement.

Paul Jay

I’d go past the word tragedy and use the word catastrophe. Given the threat of the climate crisis and the very short window, scientists are telling us we have to deal with it. I mean, we’re talking less than a decade. And the lead climate scientist in Australia said recently, along with some other scientists, that we’re already past the point of one point five degrees. And unless there’s a serious change in direction, we will hit two degrees by who knows what.

It could be as soon as 2040 or 2050. Many scientists are saying. And usually scientists are erring on the side of being too conservative in their estimations.

And then you add to that once you hit two, you’re on the rate of three and four degrees. I mean, we’re really to quote the guy from Australia. “We are looking in the face at the end of human society as we know it within, you know, maybe within the lifetime of our children anyway.”

Sam Gindin

And if we take the thesis that this kind of transformation requires a revitalization of the unions, that if this doesn’t happen in the unions, we’re screwed.

Yeah. I completely agree with you in two ways. One is the environmental question, but it’s also a question that we need us to reform the unions. It’s how much worse things can get for unions if they don’t turn this around. I mean, it’s gonna be the whole question of who’s gonna pay for the costs of getting out of this crisis.

Paul Jay

And austerity on steroids. 

Sam Gindin

Yeah. So there’s gonna be that if workers don’t. And then there’s the question of, you know, a shift to the right, which, you know, I was very worried about. I think there’s been some reasons to perhaps worry less about it. But it was always a danger that if you know, if you’re not capturing these frustrations from the left, it’s going to be captured by the right. I mean, that’s what happened with Trump.

That’s what happened in England. That’s when the failure of the left and in Europe generally, it’s the failure of the left to capture the unexpressed. These frustrations, that is part of the explanation of the right. So you’re absolutely right. It’s not just a bad thing. It is disastrous if it doesn’t change now. That’s why it is so important.

Paul Jay

Sam, what happened to the left? A few decades ago, certainly in the 1960s, but even before obviously in the 1930s, the left understood much of the left that it needed to organize in the working class and all kinds of people that came out of universities and colleges with you know, a class consciousness went in and became workers. And if you look at the more progressive unions in the U.S., at any rate, because just because I’ve been there more recently, I’m more familiar with them.

But the unions that, for example, supported Bernie Sanders and that, you know, took a more progressive position.

Many of the leaders in the leadership of those unions didn’t come out of the working class as such. They came out of the more intellectual conscious left to join the working class, join the union movement, and helped to radicalize the unions. And, you know, I think it’s clear the kind of class consciousness we’re talking about.

You know, the old formulation was, you know, saying old, I mean Marx and others of that period. And not long after that, workers on their own developed trade union consciousness. But they don’t really develop class consciousness without a connection to that whole culture of the evolution of the left of left thinking, socialist thinking, communist thinking.

But what happened with the left seemed to a large extent by the 70s, 80s, to kind of just lose connection with the working class movement.

Sam Gindin

Yeah. Very good question, Paul. You know, unions, the very structure of unions is that their particular organizations.  There best democratic organizations, but they’re trying to represent their own members. And you don’t join a union because you’re radical. You join it because you happen to be in the same workplace. So it’s a mixed bag of people. And when unions were formed in the 30s because of the involvement. Communists and socialists, and because you could only organize them out of the community.

There was a class sense to them and they needed the community. And as they get institutionalized and as they get resources and as they go through a period of fairly rapid growth in the post-war period, they needed that less. Unions could feel like shit. All we need is some militancy and we’ll get a piece of the action and maybe other workers will follow. In a sense, that’s what happened. Workers make gains. Other workers followed during that period of growth in the 50s into the early 60s.

The trouble is this. That’s all changed. Those circumstances have all changed. Now, if you want to make gains, it’s not good enough to say I’m gonna be a militant teacher. If you don’t have the public onside, you’re going to be isolated. It’s not good enough to say I’m going to be a militant autoworker. It’s a start, because if you’re not militant and fighting, you’re not gonna get anything or build anything. But if you’re not dealing with the fact that capital can leave and you’re trying to put limits on capital, you’re eventually going to be exhausted and limited.

So we’re in a new phase where if you don’t think in class terms, you can’t even make the small gains. You have to think bigger just to make the small gains. And as far as the left is concerned, you know, there were defeats.  There were the defeats in terms of what happened to the Soviet Union.  Although, I don’t think that was the key thing. A lot of people on the left didn’t identify with the Soviet Union. There was McCarthyism, which infiltrated the trade union movements themselves.

But I do think that this question of how you link up with the workers and how you build that kind of a movement, how you fight for reforms and at the same time deal something larger is really difficult. You know, it’s easier to understand why Social Democrats failed because they began to believe that you could do all of this within capitalism. And it was just a question of getting elected. You’ll be able to do things, not recognizing constraints.

But the problem of not just having left leaders, but left leaders who can really build around members because otherwise the members themselves will be a constraint on how far you go is a problem that we’re still in the process of figuring out. And I think a lot of the Democratic Socialists of America are starting to think about how do we send how do we make socialists? And how do we send them into plants? So they become socialist organizers. But I do want to flag one thing that I think is important that you raised earlier, and that’s the relationship to the Democratic Party, even a lot of the trade union leaders who supported Sanders.

And hope that Sanders would move things in a progressive direction. They still came down to the issue of when an election comes we have to back off and just make sure that the Republicans aren’t elected. To save our institutions, and maybe to strengthen them with better legislation,  we have to keep the Democrats in power. And it’s not that elections aren’t important, and it’s not that defeating Trump isn’t important. But unless people understand that, that’s just an element of the struggle.

All the energy and the hope is put into that. And even when workers get access, if they end up putting it all into the elections and not building at the base, then it’s predictable that after the elections are over, we don’t have the kind of base to move things to the left. So this is this question of the left and the unions are intertwined. I think that a lot of people gave up hope in unions because they didn’t see that kind of energy and struggle.

And I think that the examples that you gave on the West Coast and I think the examples that we’ve been seeing with teachers and in other places IUE and UE electirical unions have been talking about conversion. I think that this is going to change an attitude to unions and get young people involved. And if unions start doing things like what the miners did in the 30s is they decided if they didn’t organize steel, they’d be isolated. So they sent 100 organizers into the field, voluntary.

They paid their expenses. It’s that kind of an attitude that has to emerge on the left and within the unions.

Paul Jay

Yeah, I think part of it is enough workers in both Canada and the U.S. in key sectors of the economy. We’re doing well enough. Enough. We’re doing well enough.

And especially in some of the areas, like some of the mining industry, telecommunications, transportation, a stratum of workers are getting paid pretty well. They felt comfortable. They didn’t feel any economic anxiety. And even more importantly, the leadership of the unions, of those unions were really comfortable that, you know, I know both of us have both of us have hung out with some labor leaders that, you know, go for these hundred dollar steaks at lunch on a regular basis on their expense accounts.

And I think not only do they get awfully comfortable.  They’ve also kind of given up. They’re just absolutely pessimistic that anything will change. So they might as well just enjoy themselves.

Sam Gindin

I think Paul, I mean, you’re right. I mean, you know, in the 50s and 60s, a lot of the gains that workers were making politically and economically did flow through. And then it stops happening. And when stops happening, the more gains you make, the more isolated you become from other workers. I mean, inequality within the working class is very important. And one of the things that happened is that after workers made a lot of gains, they were pissed off when they were asked to make concessions.

But they eventually began to accept the fact that, well, maybe concessions, some concessions are a way of saving most of what I got. So the transition to concessions happened and then they maintain their consumption by going into debt or by having their spouses moving from part time work to longtime work. In other words, they began to solve these problems individually. I’ll work overtime. I’ll go into debt. We’ll have more hours in the family. And that also meant, in a sense, that you’re reproducing neoliberalism.

And in terms of the leadership itself, I mean, part of it is that the leadership begin to reflect their members as well. The members are not pushing that hard. And part of it is that you’re right. A lot of the leaders, at first, made loud noises because the members were militant. But soon they do begin to see that, hey, this is actually comfortable. If I tell workers, there’s not much I can do because it’s neo liberalism.

It’s the Republican Party. It’s globalization. It’s financialization. It makes my life easier. Nobody expects much of me. And then a lot of trade union leaders became part of the dampening of concessions. But I guess my take on this is union leaders are going to be always vulnerable to bureaucratization. The question is building the kind of movement from below, with links to the outside, which was one of the important roles of the left historically that are always pushing.

When I came to the union, I was always asked to write fairly radical documents because they knew that the members would be asking, what’s a union doing about this or what is it doing about that? And that would lead to certain discussions. When I left the union, those kinds of pressures weren’t on the leadership. And you know why, I was left to kind of relax and go and talk to workers in the bar. And so, you know, there’s dynamic here.

I just don’t think we should underestimate or overestimate the extent to which just better leaders will do this. It is still a struggle that raises questions about organizing and creating the kind of structures that give people the confidence that, hey, if you fight through these those structures, it will matter. So leadership is critical, but it is also what’s happened to the members over this period of time. And it’s a question of how the left learns to get involved.

So it isn’t just getting involved through slogans, but it’s actually becoming part of the working class.

Paul Jay

Yeah, that’s kind of where I was heading.

The real you know, the objective economic conditions were such that enough workers were doing well enough and they get some ways the leadership they deserve and want. Because enough of them, we’re feeling comfortable. The workers that were not feeling comfortable and to a large extent, we’re in the majority. But we’re also not unionized. And then you get this development of what you’re talking about, this disconnect between the union members who are doing well enough and some doing quite well and the rest of the working class.

Paul Jay

But maybe now we’re in a moment where that’s going to change because whole sections of the working class in the United States and I’m assuming Canada, too, are now feeling even poverty, are so extremely threatened to about their economic future.

And this is sections of the working class that didn’t have many of those fears are certainly not like now. So this may this may be the moment where workers are going to say, hold on. I’m not. All right, Jack.

Sam Gindin

Well, you know, the problem with frustrations and feeling like I’m not all right, Jack, and this is an international issue, not just the United States, is that it can also go to the right. It can go to, you know, blaming immigrants for what’s going on. It can go into a certain kind of negative nationalism. So it’s not enough that workers are feeling that kind of pressure, although I think the right has any long term solutions.

So even as the right winds, I think it really faces contradictions because it’s not going to take on capital to solve these problems. But it can be incredibly dangerous. It can do so much damage. So on the other hand, I do absolutely agree it’s an opportunity, not just because workers are being squeezed, but because the pandemic is carrying through lessons. It’s telling people that, hey, I can’t solve these problems individually. We need to have some kind of we have to address the state.

We need to address these issues collectively. We have to actually this this inequality that we accepted or just felt that it’s inevitable is just not fatalistic about. It’s just not tolerable once you start. You know, it’s what happens in a war. Suddenly, you know, in Second World War, the top tax rate was 94 percent. It’s if you’re saying we’re all in this together, then people take it seriously and start asking questions or some people have so much wealth and have this so easy.

How come we’re the ones that are on the frontlines risking death, just like in war and others are urging a song? So it raises those kinds of questions and it does raise the environmental question, although I think it has. I think it’s incumbent on the left to really take advantage of that. It raises the question of organizing.

Let me give you a very concrete exactly example of the failures before workers action centers in Ontario were able to to get a 15 dollar minimum wage by legislation.

And as soon as they got that Tim Hortons fast food coffee started taking away from workers, in other ways, they cut their benefits. The public was outraged. They felt that workers had something by law and that they should have this. This is a golden movement, a moment to say you want to have just what the state says you should have, need a union to enforce it. So the unions made some good noises about you need a union to get your rights.

But that wasn’t enough. What you needed was a crusade. You needed to say we’re setting up committees across unions in every community and we are going to start organizing Tim Horton’s in every community. And had we done that, that could have been the beginning of massive organizing of home care workers and Amazon workers and the poor more generally. Why didn’t it happen? Partly because that requires a lot of work, mostly because that requires unions to cooperate. And if your perspective is I want dues rather than I want to build a class in cooperation isn’t good, you’re going to be asking, am I going to get the dues?

And, you know, it comes out of not having a class perspective and competing amongst bureaucratically. So in this case right now, I think there is a real opportunity to expand unionization dramatically in every sector. And the question is, will unions actually do what is required to make it happen? And I’m not confident that a lot of unions will do it. I think there’s still kind of doing it in the old way. Again, there are exceptions that I want to over generalize.

But if we could win better legislation on unionizing, it might get workers to see what you’re saying, which is, hey, this is the moment. We’d better do it now. Well, we better throw everything into it and do it. And we better get young people excited so we can get hundreds, thousands of young people to start doing this, to be trained to do this. And then you’re really building the capacity of the working class, not just to make some immediate changes, but to start making it into the kind of social force that will be that kind of an opening for socialism is the sitter.

Paul Jay

How does the situation in Canada and the US compare?

Sam Gindin

Ironically, because the situation in the US has been so much worse, they’ve actually had to think about organizing a lot more. And therefore, we’ve actually had examples of organizing in terms of organizing janitors, in terms of organizing low paid health care workers, in terms of teachers, nurses, nurses have been very active, the nurses.

And organizing  in right to  work states. So we’ve actually had examples in the United States that are inspiring Canada, which is very important in that sense. There’s been better examples in the states. The fact that Canada has had a social democratic government has meant that we’ve had health care, which is very important.

Health care has really been a way of disciplining workers in the States. If you lose your job, you lose your health care. On the other hand, although that’s very important, it’s also limited organizing because social democracy just hasn’t had that kind of a sense. So we have to build the working class sense of social force. That’s what political parties should be about. So so, you know, we shouldn’t romanticize Canada. We’ve had it easier in terms of some social programs, but in terms of the health of the labor movement, it isn’t that much healthier.

And I point out again that our unionization rate is much higher than the states. But if it’s not a unions, I you know, if it doesn’t lead to unions really fighting and organizing union density itself isn’t the answer. It has to be the whole set of dynamics that you’ve been talking about. We have a lot of American listener viewers, obviously, for this show, in fact, a majority, but lots of Canadians do. What is the state now of the relationship to the unions and the new Democratic Party?

Paul Jay

So for our Americans, the NDP is the overtly social Democratic Party that calls itself the sometimes when it governs, it’s indistinguishable from the Liberal Party. And sometimes there’s the occurrences, recent Ontario elections where the Ontario Liberal Party, I think, ran to the left of the NDP.

But but if there’s one place where the unions in theory could have some clout, it’s in the NDP. But it’s to a large extent the unions that keep the NDP so centrist. Well, this is a general problem, a social democracy throughout the world. I mean, Social Democrats have wanted to come to power so that they could administer a capitalist society. And there was some logic maybe in doing this in the 50s in the sense that the economy was growing and you could shift it in a social democratic direction and even centrist parties did that.

Sam Gindin

That period is over. And Social Democrats, rather than recognizing that you have to take on capital, we’re awed by capital and rather than because they’ve never thought in terms of we’re actually trying to transform society and therefore we have to build workers into a social force.

All they’ve ever wanted from workers is that they give them some money and knock on doors. And that just hasn’t been enough to build the kind of base. So right now, I’d say that it’s actually split. There are some labor leaders that don’t pay much attention to politics as some that have actually moved to the liberals like, you know, for the union that I come out of. They’ve been closer to the Liberals than the NDP. On the other hand, there’s a division with the members the members don’t follow anymore.

What the leaders say to them, some of the members vote for the Social Democratic Party because it isn’t basically financed by Bay Street, the way the conservatives and liberals are, some of them, because the NDP is in fact more progressive. And if you’re going to vote in the election, you should vote for the Democrats. But it isn’t that it isn’t as if the you know, the NDP is a space for leading protests and leading in education. When we had our major protests in Canada against wage controls in the 70s, when we had a days of action where we had general strikes by community to fight the neo liberal agenda in the mid 90s, kind of our peak, it was led by the unions with with the support of the social movements.

The NDP was actually worried about people seeing another kind of politics that might draw energy away from the NDP. It kind of had to go on very cautiously.  But that was led by the labor movement, but it really showed the potential of the labor movement. But then the question is, those kinds of protests end and where do you go from there? And that wasn’t that wasn’t ever resolved.

Paul Jay

What is the state now of the Public Sector Unions? 

Sam Gindin

Just generally, the public sector is now much more important to both in weight and in strategic significance than they were, for example, in the earlier period that you talked about in the thirties and through the 50s and 60s. And that affects this question of both union leadership within the trade union movement, because a lot of this is now going to come from the public sector, although not always. There’s a lot of logistic workers like port workers and warehouse workers and truck drivers that are also has a lot of potential power.

But in the public sector, you cannot make gains unless you really not just link up with other workers, but see the community in class terms that you have to get the community onside. And that means that you’re trying to speak to if you’re a teacher of parents and their and their kids as part of your strategy. Now, I think that most trade union leaders have understood this. They will always now try to frame their issues as we’re really speaking for the public.

The catch is it’s not just good enough to say support us. We’re speaking for the public. You have to demonstrate it. You have to actually go out there and organize in the public. You have to put social issues on your bargaining agenda. You have to be ready to fight for social issues. And it’s happened in a few cases, which are really inspiring. But that’s the challenge, I think, of class also in those terms. And as the public sector does that it does begin to link up also and demonstrate things for the rest of the private sector.

Paul Jay

I think that’s really critical and. Let me just add one thing to it, in this pandemic moment, there is the most obvious thing public sector workers, private sector worker unions should be doing, and that’s organizing the unemployed. You don’t get any dues out of it. You do it for the class. And it’s it’s I think maybe the most important thing right now that would change the dynamic of the relationship of what has been seen as privileged workers versus unprivileged workers and the growing numbers in the millions of unemployed workers.

It’s like the 1930s. And there’s no short term fix to that. You know, they can try reopening the economy. There’s going to be significantly high unemployment for years to come. Now is the time for mass organizing of the unemployed. And that gets at what you’re talking about, the link between the organized workers and the community because unemployed workers in their millions, it’s their families. It’s their cousins, their relatives. I’m sure you’re really talking about the whole working class community now is affected by unemployment.

But I’m not seeing anything, frankly, from the unions stepping up to the plate on this.

Sam Gindin

Yeah, I think the challenge for unions is that to really do this in a way that’s necessary. I mean, you’re absolutely right in what you just said. But to do it in a way that’s necessary doesn’t just require a shift in direction. It’s a transformation. You have to change what you put resources into. You have to reconsider how much you’re going to pay staff if you’re going to be able to try to organize low paid workers who don’t have anywhere near the salaries that a lot of U.N. staff have.

You have to train staff differently. You have to put more resources into it here in the public sector, organizing the community because it isn’t as if the community is organized. They’re just waiting for an alliance with you. You have to be organized. So you’re rethinking everything about education, training, and you always have to get your base on site. It is never good enough for some leader to say, I’m going to do this, because then they’ll find that some of their members are going to start asking, well, hugging me, spending my money.

That’s why you have to explain that, to keep them onside. Otherwise, you end up doing it and a half-assed way. You have two organizers instead of 25 as a compromise and then you don’t succeed. And then the whole idea is discredited. Now, the question is, you know, on the one hand, can unions grasp how pivotal this moment is? And then can there be the legislative changes that really reinforce that? If unions had easier legislation and unionizing some of the barriers removed, so they got access to members.

So management really has stayed out of organizing. If you’ve got a.. Scab legislation. So they couldn’t just try to break you in your first agreement, that might stimulate that as well. And, of course, there’s the role of the left and really pushing this if there’s anything that the left needs to do now. Of course, there are the policy questions, but it’s to figure out how you make the working class into a social base so that you can really win all these things that you really want.

Paul Jay

 But I wasn’t talking about organizing the unorganized. I’m talking about organizing the unemployed. And that’s that’s a different thing, because certainly labor legislation needs it would be easier to organize unorganized with changes in labor legislation. But you don’t need any changes in legislation to use resources. And it doesn’t take that much to call for a rally of the unemployed, especially these days when you can do so much so organizing online and spontaneously and self organizing. But to have a like call, a mass protest of a rally of the unemployed, whether it’s an Ottawa or DC or Toronto or New York.

And start building that 1930s style, this mass movement of the unemployed, many of whom used to be union members, maybe only a few weeks ago, but aren’t anymore because they got laid off or fired. But that would create this kind of sense of class, because it’s not just about feathering the nest of the of the privileged or what used to be privileged union members. But I agree even to do that, you need a transformation in the unions. But it’s not like the strategy of what needs to be done isn’t relatively clear.

You need workers to fight in the unions to have that as the agenda of the unions.

Sam Gindin

Yeah, I mean, I also think that yeah. I mean, a lot of the unemployed are going to be unemployed union members with a lot of skills, at least union kind of skills.

So, yeah, I think that that’s, you know, it is, you know, in normal times when we tried to organize the unemployed, you do it by how do you get access to. When you start providing services that the state doesn’t provide and then there’s a lot of turnover. So these people are the best organizers actually move on and get a job. The difference right now with what you’re raising is this is going to be happening on a very significant scale.

It’s going to be happening at a moment in time where expectations about society are going to be in turmoil, about what people expect and how they whether they feel that they’ve been left out or they’re being ignored. So there is this moment of doing dramatic things that we haven’t thought about doing before that we have to really consider. And I think that’s crucial. I should say that the most the examples in the past did involve communists and the left, the 30’s organizing, for example, did involve a lot of communist organizers.

But this is also how people learn skills about organizing by getting involved.

And, you know, doing this will create a lot of activists. Organizers admit it is part of building the class and exactly the way that you.

Paul Jay

Well, we’re going to keep talking about this with  and Sam and other people who are in this fight. And in fact, if you’re listening to this and you are or, you know, someone who’s in a union who’s actively fighting for a progressive agenda of the union, and I know it is happening in many locals. So people are trying to elect progressive slates from especially in teachers’ unions. But but not only get get hold of me, and we want to really try to develop this discussion and get like minded union members and workers as a platform of space to talk about how they’re waging this fight.

We’re gonna do a part two of this interview where we’re going to talk about what’s happening in Oshawa, which I talked about in the beginning, because I think it’s a really interesting model. So we’re gonna end part one and then wait. And when I look out for part two, which will publish like a day or two after we publish part one. So for now, thanks for joining us, Sam. 

Sam Gindin

Great. Thank you, Paul.

Paul Jay

And thank you for joining us on podcast.



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